The sun, quite literally, is shining down very brightly on IQE. The company is currently one of the leading global suppliers of advanced semiconductor wafers. These wafers have a diverse range of applications such as mobile telephones, missile guidance systems, satellite communications, power systems, automotive applications and more.
Today, the multinational company provides one-stop outsourced production of high-quality wafers to some of the biggest names in the electronics industry. But the recent surge in market interest—and government money—for clean and alternative energy advances has given IQE an entry into the bright future of solar technology.
“Solar is our next big push,” confirms Steve Gergar, IQE’s vice president and general manager. Gergar says the company has taken full advantage of the new funds made available by the U.S. Stimulus Program for Alternative Energies. “Thanks to all this interest, there’s a very high growth market today both inside and outside of the U.S. For several years, we’ve been expanding into this new field by supplying compound semiconductor wafers to the solar cell market. It’s a very exciting time.”
A Long History of Partnership
Today, IQE is the largest independent epiwafer producer in the world, with 2008 sales of about $100 million and offices globally—but 20 years ago, it was just another high-tech hopeful in need of guidance and capital. The company has been involved with the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA (BFTP/NEP) ever since Tom Hierl founded QED, the startup that would merge into IQE in 1989. At the time, QED was trying to build a business by creating molecular beam epitaxy wafers—epiwafers—a process that demands advanced production methods, expensive state-of-the-art equipment, extremely pure material sources and a high vacuum environment.
BFTP/NEP invested $231,000 in the start-up and provided the company with a pivotal introduction to First National Bank, opening the door to additional funding. BFTP/NEP also provided business assistance as well as office and lab space in the nationally recognized Ben Franklin Business Incubator.
“IQE was able to capitalize on the opportunities that BFTP and the Mid-Atlantic Venture Funds gave them in the beginning,” says Bob Thomson, BFTP/NEP regional manager. “They were savvy, and they thrived in the business incubator. IQE was profitable in less than six months.” With assistance from a partnership of economic developers, including BFTP/NEP, the Lehigh Valley Industrial Park, the City of Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, the company relocated to the John M. Cook Technology Center in Bethlehem in 1993.
“We have received so much valuable assistance from Ben Franklin Technology Partners,” says Gergar. “In the eight years I’ve been here, BFTP/NEP has helped us with grants and community awareness of all sorts, whether it’s getting us positive media coverage or helping us reach out to a bank.”
Shining a Light on the Solar Market
Today, as the company expands into the clean and alternative energy arena, Gergar credits BFTP/NEP with helping identify sources of funding and potential customers for solar power technology. “Really, they’ve always been there for us, and their support has been invaluable,” says Gergar.
“It’s very difficult to build a successful company and even more difficult to make smart decisions for expanding into new markets,” says Thomson. “We’re proud of IQE’s accomplishments and honored to have been part of its growth.”